Transformers – Michael Bay And The Cinema Of Subtlety

By Ezra Stead

Transformers, USA, 2007

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, USA, 2009

Directed by Michael Bay

Transformers is a pretty bad movie, but its first sequel is unbelievably awful. With the latest Michael Bay monstrosity, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, taking more than a billion dollars at the box office and potentially remaining the top-grossing movie of this year (please, please, prove me wrong, awards season), now would be a good time to revisit the first two, which might help explain why I have sworn off the third one, or any future editions. I hope no one thinks I’m a snob just for occasionally displaying some standard of good taste. Remember, I love The Toxic Avenger (1984) and The Lost Boys (1987), not to mention much lower quality films like The Room (2003) and Birdemic: Shock and Terror, so I’m not always too pretentious for a good time with a bad movie. 

Transformers (2007) is the somewhat enjoyable but wildly overlong story of a high school kid unfortunately named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his love affair with his car … I mean, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), a sultry, sexy cheerleader who is considered out of his league until he acquires a sleek, sexy ’70s Camaro named Bumblebee (voiced by Mark Ryan). Yeah, sure, it’s the girl Sam – and most of this film’s target audience – wants to have sex with, not the car. Whatever. Anyway, despite what audiences might expect or want, and what they may have been led to believe by the film’s trailer, the first Transformers movie spends an inordinate amount of time on Sam and his “beard,” Mikaela, leaving most of the actual Transformers to be little more than comic relief in their own movie, at least until the last twenty minutes or so, when they finally get around to engaging in the patented Michael Bay orgy-of-loud-shiny-excess-action-sequence, as seen in even worse movies like Bad Boys II (2003).

Making the Autobots (they’re the good guys) comic relief might have been a good idea if they were actually funny. Instead, they are a collection of lowest common denominator cliches, with Bay and his two screenwriters, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, proving they are not too proud to mine cheap yuks from the bodily functions of chihuahuas. One of the few bright points of the film is John Turturro’s performance as Agent Simmons, an eccentric government man who gets the best moment of the film when he says, referring to Mikaela, “She’s a criminal, and criminals are hot!” Turturro delivers this line with the kind of manic intensity that made him famous in early work like Tony Bill’s Five Corners (1987), and he seems to be one of the few actors having a good time and not taking anything too seriously. By the time we reach the climactic, twenty minute battle scene, it’s hard not to be too bored and numb to care about the spectacle, which is technically impressive, to be sure.

As basically crappy as Transformers is, it is a true masterpiece of cinema compared to its sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This one just might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the loudest, dumbest and most boring. Just painful to watch. By the end, I felt suicidal, but I was too numb to do anything about that feeling. Much has been said, quite accurately, of this film’s sexism and racism, but beyond that, I just can’t help but wonder: how can a movie this stupid be this long? How can a movie about giant alien robots fighting each other take itself so seriously? Why waste an epic length on something without a shred of decent character development or even a coherent story?

I won’t waste your time or mine trying to recount the so-called plot of this movie, especially since its three screenwriters (apparently two cooks were not enough to spoil the broth last time) can’t seem to be bothered making any of it coherent anyway. Suffice to say, there are robots, stuff blows up, and I can’t waste any more time with this franchise, even if they did add Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and Alan Tudyk to the latest installment. At eighty minutes, this would still be a terrible movie, but at 150 it is like having your psyche relentlessly bludgeoned by an exceptionally stupid sledgehammer. For some reason, Rainn Wilson also appears briefly; I love him as Dwight Schrute on The Office but he seems to only make cameos in terrible but highly successful movies (see also, Juno). This is, sadly, one of the top hundred highest-grossing films of all time; therefore, I will die in poverty.

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’ Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper and poet who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-11599">
    Jon S

    I’ve always argued in defense of Michael Bay on Revenge of the Fallen. The man can show restraint when he chooses to – he only destroyed TWO pyramids!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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